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Veterans gather in Tonbridge for drive-in summer concert as charities aim to combat lockdown loneliness


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For many, the past year-and-a-half has been testing to say the least - three lockdowns and endless months of shielding for the vulnerable.

This has been particularly hard for the elderly, especially the veteran community, with many living alone and isolated away from family.

The veterans seemed to be enjoying their first day out with comrades in more than a year

However, charities have now joined forces to combat the lockdown loneliness and invited veterans for an afternoon of classic tunes, bingo and plenty of Pimms at Penshurst Place in Tonbridge.

George Apprentice, a 97-year-old Second World War veteran who fought on the beach in Operation Doomsday, was front row with his family enjoying the 'Forget You Not Rock' concert in the sunshine.

He said: "I've got a small flat and because of the lockdowns it has been a case of staring at four walls all day. All I could do was go to Marks and Spencer around the corner and do some shopping and get something to eat."

However, with an invite to the party arriving through his letterbox, Mr Apprentice was delighted to attend and display his medals.

He continued: "It's great to be invited, they contacted me out of the blue, but it's great - a lovely day out."

George Apprentice was front row for the entire performance
George Apprentice was front row for the entire performance

The veterans could enjoy the show from the comfort of their own car with the bluetooth speakers provided, or bring their own picnic blankets and chairs to bask in the glorious sunshine.

Two care homes from the area went along with buses full of excited ex-service personnel ready for an afternoon outside - a rare treat for many of their residents, despite all legal restrictions on social distancing now being lifted.

Daphne Glazebrook was attending with her fellow residents at Maurice House in Broadstairs, and with a glass of Pimms in hand she was dancing in her seat before the music started playing.

She giggled: "Although we've been taken out for drives, you can't get out!

"It nice to come out here in the countryside, in the fresh air and good weather, and to have a Pimms - what more could you ask for!"

Daphne Glazebrook enjoyed a glass of Pimms in the sunshine
Daphne Glazebrook enjoyed a glass of Pimms in the sunshine

Although, reminiscing on the past 18 months, she admitted it hasn't always been easy.

"Our own family can only come and visit occasionally, but now we can even go out in the garden with them, so we're getting somewhere.

"They have looked after us well at Maurice House and tried to keep us all together as a family, but it has been difficult."

Peter James also lives in the Broadstairs care home and said he was most excited for the hot dogs that were sizzling on the barbecue in the corner.

Tracy Tremble, manager at Maurice House said: "There are still so many restrictions around care homes that the general public are not aware of."

Peter James attended with his fellow residents from Morris House in Broadstairs
Peter James attended with his fellow residents from Morris House in Broadstairs

She continued: "It has been really tough. Obviously as soon as we were able to have family visit we did everything we could - window visits, individual pods and now we can have some family into the home under strict rules.

"We usually go to lots of events at venues like Buckingham Palace and St James' Palace but we haven't been able to do so for 18 months.

"It's really lovely to get out of Thanet at least and the residents are really excited."

Just behind the Maurice House 'family' was a bus filled with residents from Barton Court in Sheerness.

They arrived fully prepared for the party with hats and Union Jack flags to match their jubilant spirits.

Veterans from Barton Court were prepared with party hats and flags
Veterans from Barton Court were prepared with party hats and flags

The event was organised by The Not Forgotten charity, which supports the Armed Forces, in partnership with other local organisations such as Homes 4 Heroes in Whitstable.

This isn't the first event of it's kind in the county, with The Not Forgotten entertainers previously passing through Chatham for their Jingle Bell Rock Tour, and visiting a Gillingham care home earlier this year for a private garden performance.

Rosie Thompson MBE, head of events at The Not Forgotten said: "I think it's time to get out and about again. So many of the veterans we will be entertaining in this tour won't have been out in more than a year.

"I met a veteran the other day who said 'you made me feel human again' and it's all about reducing those feelings of isolation and loneliness.

"We want to put smiles back on people's faces and get people having a good time, almost like back in the old days."

Rosie Thompson MBE set up the event to unite Kent's veteran community
Rosie Thompson MBE set up the event to unite Kent's veteran community

However, Ms Thompson believes that veterans may have been better equipped to deal with a lockdown than most people because of their life experience.

She continued: "I think because many of the veterans have suffered with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues as a result of their service, initially is was okay.

"It was almost like 'welcome to my world' because many of them don't go out much anyway.

"I think over time they did start to feel more lonely because they weren't seeing their friends, and more importantly their comrades.

"That's when we stepped in and sent them jigsaw puzzles, arranged phone calls and now we're finally getting out, and for them to be able make those veteran-to-veteran connections makes all the difference."

The outdoor event staged singers, dancers and plenty of games for veterans to enjoy
The outdoor event staged singers, dancers and plenty of games for veterans to enjoy

To read about the Armed Forces and how they have served Kent and beyond, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Tonbridge

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